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Youth Unemployment

Volume 502: debated on Monday 7 December 2009

6. What steps her Department is taking to reduce unemployment among young people; and if she will make a statement. (304067)

12. What steps the Government are taking to reduce the level of youth unemployment; and if she will make a statement. (304073)

We have launched a number of targeted initiatives to tackle youth unemployment, as hon. Members have been hearing. From next month, the young person’s guarantee will ensure that all 18 to 24-year-olds on jobseeker’s allowance will be guaranteed either the offer of work, work-focused training or meaningful activity. They will then be required to take up one of those opportunities. The future jobs fund will create 150,000 jobs. About 95,000 jobs have already been approved and some have already started, but the Government cannot prevent youth unemployment on our own. That is why we have launched Backing Young Britain, and I am delighted to report that, as a result, more than 330 employers are already pledging new opportunities for young people.

What measures within the future jobs fund and other initiatives within the Department are focused specifically on disabled young people, the vast majority of whom want to experience the same job opportunities and job satisfaction as has been the experience of their peers?

My right hon. Friend is well known in the House as a champion for disabled people. The future jobs fund is designed to help all young people and, with my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for disabled people, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), I am looking to secure good access to all future jobs fund opportunities for young disabled people. Among the future jobs fund bids, First Movement in the east midlands will offer creative arts and outreach activities for people with disabilities, and, in Scotland, the Royal National Institute of Blind People has proposed a number of jobs, including positions such as facilities officers, conferences officers and an admin director.

Programmes such as the young person’s guarantee are to be welcomed, and I am sure that they will do a lot of good. However, does my hon. Friend realise—I do not know what was in the press yesterday, but as far as I am concerned this is the case with the rules today—that there are daft rules? There is a 39-week eligibility wait before one can qualify for that scheme, which means that about a third of young unemployed people in the north-east will not qualify at all. Will the Minister look into this issue and scrap the rule to make sure that all young people get their rights from day one?

Given that my hon. Friend comes from the part of the world that he does, which has been hard hit by the recession, I naturally listen carefully to his encouragements. Of course, we continue to consider the point at which people become eligible for increasing levels of support, according to the risks that they have of becoming long-term unemployed. We will have more to say about that in the next few days.

I am sure that the Minister recognises the anger and frustration of young people and families who find themselves unemployed at this time. Why have the numbers been rising steadily, even before the credit crunch? Does he understand and accept that unemployment when one is young has a long-term, scarring effect, from which people often do not recover?

We know only too well, from our memories of the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, when the Government of the day thought that unemployment was a price worth paying, about the scarring effect of unemployment, especially on young people. It can damage their self-confidence for the rest of their working lives. That is why we have put such a focus on preventing long-term youth unemployment through the £5 billion investment—opposed by the hon. Gentleman and his party—which has been successful, as I have already said in answers today. That is why, if we consider the international position, we see that our youth unemployment is below the European average and that of countries such as France, Italy and Spain.